Shock at mother's lenient sentence

By Sam Hurley

Tracy Waihape was discovered driving with seven unrestrained children in this stationwagon. Three were discovered in the car's boot.
Tracy Waihape was discovered driving with seven unrestrained children in this stationwagon. Three were discovered in the car's boot.

A judge has told a Napier mother who drove with seven unrestrained children her actions were "something a large number of families would do" 30 years ago - despite a police reminder yesterday that unrestrained children became "projectiles" in accidents.

Tracy Wiki Jean Waihape, 39, appeared in the Napier District Court yesterday after an incident that "shocked" police in Wairoa on August 5.

She pleaded guilty to driving while unlicensed, failing to remain at a checkpoint, failing to stop and resisting arrest.

Judge Jonathan Down entered convictions on all four charges and sentenced Waihape to 80 hours' community work for resisting arrest.

Road policing Senior Sergeant Greg Brown declined to comment on Judge Down's remark but said it was obvious when "children aren't restrained they become projectiles".

"Nobody wants to find a child on the road having gone through the windscreen," Mr Brown said.

"We have seen in other crashes, such as the Pakipaki one recently, that show how important and life-saving a proper child restraint is."

Storm Mako, 1, escaped serious injury or death on July 31 after her mother's car and a truck collided head-on at the Pakipaki Rd and SH2 intersection. Her father, Tony Mako, a former senior constable, said his granddaughter's life was saved by the toddler's car seat.

RoadSafe Hawke's Bay regional manager Linda Anderson said the judge had made a decision based on what was in front of him, but was adamant children always required the appropriate restraints when in a car.

"I haven't heard of a case like that before," she said.

"We always want people to travel safe and certainly having properly restrained passengers and children is a big part of that."

Readers took to Hawke's Bay Today's Facebook page yesterday, many critical of the lenient sentence.

In 1984, 30 years ago, the national road toll was 669. This year's toll is projected to reach about 290, the Ministry of Transport said.

When police stopped Waihape they found she was transporting a 2-year-old, 3-year-old and two 14-year-olds unrestrained and in non-compliant car seats that were not secured to the body of the car.

Waihape then fled the scene, and took police on a 2km pursuit that reached speeds of 65km/h.

As a constable attempted to arrest her, she pushed the officer away and told him to "f**k off".

With Waihape in custody and in the back of a patrol car, police impounded the Subaru stationwagon, but as they began searching the vehicle they discovered three more children, aged 4, 5 and 10, under a cargo cover in the car's boot.

The vehicle's warrant had expired in 2011, the registration had expired in 2012 and Waihape was unlicensed and had been forbidden from driving since 2010.

Her lawyer Philip Jensen said the case was "a matter of panic".

"The whole family were extremely vulnerable and emotional," he said, revealing they had been travelling back from an uncle's tangi in Gisborne.

"Her thought process was that her and her children would just be left on the side of the road in Wairoa if the police impounded her car."

Mr Jensen also argued against members of the media taking photographs of his client because of an "emotional consideration" for her children.

Judge Down agreed and said the case was not bound by public interest, while media scrutiny went "beyond what is necessary".

"The way you behaved on that day was dumb," he told Waihape.

"I'm sure if you could go back you would do it differently."

Waihape is the mother of six of the seven children, and a grandmother of one.

She was issued with a warrant for her arrest when she initially failed to arrive at the Wairoa District Court on August 7 to face her latest charges.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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